Democracywise Profile of Howie Hawkins

Before he was even old enough to vote, Howie Hawkins was a political activist.

Common Council District 4: Hawkins for Green Party

Before he was even old enough to vote, Howie Hawkins was a political activist.

The year was 1967 and then-14-year-old Howie Hawkins became a recruiter for the Peace and Freedom Party. It was campaigning for racial equality, socialism, democracy and feminism. It needed a tremendous boost in voter registration to be included on the California ballot.

“I began to go to the adults in my life,” recalls Hawkins, “and told them they should register for the Peace and Freedom Party.” He added, “That was the point where I stopped just having thoughts about politics and started doing something.”

Now Hawkins is running against incumbent Democrat Khalid Bey for the Common Council District 4 seat. In 2011, Hawkins lost by 97 votes. District 4 encompasses the Southwest portion of Syracuse, Brighton and University Hill. Of the district’s 13,324 registered voters, 65 percent are Democrats ; 8 percent are Republicans; and 21 percent are unaffiliated with a political party. The Green Partyaccounts for less than 1 percent, with 99 registered voters.

The election is Nov. 5.

Hawkins, who is a founding member of the national Green Party, has run in an election every year between 1993 and 2011. These races include common councilor, governor, Syracuse mayor and U.S. senator and representative. He works nights unloading trucks at UPS in Syracuse.

Hawkins, 60, was born in the San Francisco Bay area in 1952 in a minority-majority neighborhood. He attributes much of his politics to that diverse background. “Growing up, I didn’t just see the white man point of view. I saw different perspectives,” Hawkins said. “I don’t want to just accept how things are. I want to see how I can make them better.”

When he was 12, Hawkins’ mother died and his father was often at work, leaving young Howie sometimes on his own. Hawkins recalls cutting high school classes to attend political demonstrations against the Vietnam war and in support of the Black Panther militants for racial equality.

During the Vietnam war, Hawkins was drafted and joined the Marine Corps. But he was not deployed into combat. He attendedDartmouth College.  After college Hawkins lived in New England.

In 1991, he moved to Syracuse to help develop cooperatives forCommonWorks, a coalition of cooperatives.

As he campaigns for District 4, Hawkins calls for higher taxes for wealthy citizens and for more state money for the city. “Right now, elected officials aren’t speaking up about the lack of state revenue that Syracuse receives. Because of this, the city as a whole is dealing with the consequences,” Hawkins said. Without state help, he said, Syracuse could become “a Detroit-like city” facing bankruptcy.

Ursula Rozum, Hawkins’ campaign manager, describes Hawkins as an independent-minded. “Howie has the utmost respect for his opponents but at the same time he can see what they lack,” said Rozum, who ran for Congress on the Green Party ticket last year.

Rozum credits Hawkins with raising the Green Party’s credibility with voters. “He truly helped the Green Party achieve credibility. Howie keeps a great relationship with the media, residents and opponents which helps our image,” Rozum said. “Because of that he has shown many residents we have a lot of offer.”

In Hawkins’ first race for Syracuse Common Councilor-at-Large, in 1993, he received only 3 percent of votes. In 2011, said Hawkins, that percentage rose to 43 percent in the District 4 race against Khalid Bey.

In his campaign now, Hawkins also proposes neighborhood assemblies like those he attended in New England. The assemblies, he said, would encourage resident participation. Hawkins added: “I think the Green Party gives the working and middle class people of Syracuse a strong voice.”

(Becca Milliron is a senior majoring in newspaper and online journalism.)

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Howie Hawkins is the 2017 Green candidate for Syracuse Mayor
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